King Zog, Self-Made Monarch of Albania

By FitzHerbert, Evelyn | The Spectator, May 22, 2004 | Go to article overview

King Zog, Self-Made Monarch of Albania


FitzHerbert, Evelyn, The Spectator


A short-lived royal adventure KING ZOG, SELF-MADE MONARCH OF ALBANIA by Jason Tomes Sutton, £20, pp. 312, ISBN 0750930772

Jason Tomes' excellent book charts the rise and fall of Albania's only king. Of perhaps greater interest is the story it tells of this Ottoman outpost's late essay into statehood. Overrun by seven foreign armies during the first world war, Albania was always under threat of being carved up among it neighbours. Ahmed Zogu can be credited with successfully manipulating Italian-Serbian rivalry, and earning Albania 20 years' independence, of a sort.

Zogu began his career as a hereditary chieftain with no more than a few thousand clansmen to his name. His rise to power was inevitably opportunistic and as such involved a bewildering succession of alliances both with local tribes (one of which he was in blood with) and with any foreign power (occupiers included) with enough money and interest to back him. Tomes argues that it would be naive to draw a clear division between true patriots and mere adventurers in the history of Albanian nationalism. The men who worked for independence also sought personal power. This might hold true of the dashing young Zogu who despatched envoys inviting all the beys and chieftains of Albania and Kosovo to a national congress in 1916. However, it is difficult to see anything other than self-interest in the actions of the petulant king in exile he was to become when Mussolini finally tired of Zog's games and annexed his quasi-protectorate in 1939.

The only serious local rival to the self-appointed king was a self-appointed bishop, Fan Noli. Noli claimed to be a Nietzschean, labelled Christianity as a capitalist instrument of enslavement and admitted subordinating religion to politics in the best Albanian tradition. He declared England to be the curse of Europe as free institutions copied from Westminster were nothing but 'a bloody farce'. However, he failed to get any financial backing for his rival government and was sent packing after six months by Zogu and his Yugoslavfunded forces.

There is much to be said for the study of small countries with insignificant economies but strategic geopolitical positions. For one, it clarifies the role of external money in the emergence and nature of local regimes. Part of what makes this book so riveting is the snapshots it gives of such aspects as oil concessions, 'development' loans and the leasing of military bases. Tomes dryly remarks, 'After taking special powers to approve foreign concessions without reference to parliament, Zogu renewed his invitation to international capitalists. …

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